Mens club COOKs up culinary gems

PORT TOWNSEND — When people with a common interest form a club, they usually organize it first and come up with a catchy name afterwards.

That wasn’t the case with COOKS, the club Bill Conklin formed three years ago.

“Sue and I came up with the acronym and name after sharing a bottle of wine,” Bill says. “It was too good not to form a group.”

Conklin is Sue’s spouse and the founder of COOKS — Culinary Order Of Kitchen Studs.

The idea: Bring together men who enjoy cooking, eating and drinking, not necessarily in that order.

“Some guys have poker nights,” Conklin says. “It’s a guy thing. It keeps us out of trouble.”

To start the club, Conklin put a notice in the magazine for residents of his Kala Point community and got several responses.

As the word got out, he had to limit membership to 10 — the maximum that can fit around a dining-room table.

“It’s an exclusive group and probably politically incorrect, because no women are allowed,” Conklin says, “and women are not permitted to register their husbands for membership.”

There are no other rules, no dues and no qualifications for membership, Conklin says.

Some men are family cooks, while others do baking or specialize in a particular cuisine.

The 10 members meet about six times annually for lunch, deciding ahead of time on what the theme will be.

They arrive at the host’s house at 10 a.m. with recipes and ingredients and start preparing the meal, sometimes under the direction of guest chefs.

“Once it was Thai food with Tom Weiner, the former owner of Ajax Cafe,” Conklin says.

Bob Lowe, a former New Orleans resident, hosted a Mardi Gras lunch where COOKS made sausages and Cajun food.

Another time, they went to Manresa Castle to watch Chef Walter Sanchi prepare a gourmet lunch.

For “Beefeater Night” at Tom Riggs’ house on Marrowstone Island, they prepared a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding.

“That was black tie, formal, just guys, with cigars and wine,” Conklin says.

There was, however, pressure from wives to be beneficiaries of the culinary creativity, Conklin says.

So COOKS relented and invite them as guests to an annual picnic on the Kala Point beach.

The main dish at the picnic is either salmon or crab, he says, with the men also preparing side dishes and hors d’oeuvres.

In December, they invite the spouses to an hors d’oeuvres and wine party.

“At first, we just brought hors d’oeuvres on a plate,” Conklin says.

“Then we started getting competitive. Now, when we show with our hors d’oeuvres, we’re talking very showy stuff.”

The hors d’oeuvres were so impressive, in fact, that COOKS has been asked to provide refreshments for Newcomers Club meetings at Kala Point, Conklin says.

The club has a waiting list, with alternates eligible to go on field trips.

One time, the COOKS toured gourmet grocery stores in Seattle and Poulsbo.

This month, the men are going to LaConner for an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting at the Olive Shoppe, followed by lunch at Seeds Bistro.

Although COOKS is a culinary order, there is no insignia or medals, Conklin says.

But each new member receives the official club apron with the logo, created by spouse Carol Dersham.

Don Marioni advises the club on wine selection, and Hugh Murphy, the reference on all things Irish, whips up a mean batch of egg nog for the Christmas party.

“We’re not experts, we just enjoy learning about food and wine,” Conklin says, “and in some areas, we get better.”

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